THE Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition is cracking up, with the latest row breaking out over free schools and school places funding in England, with allies of LibDem Deputy PM Clegg accusing Tory Education Secretary Gove of ‘lunacy’.
LibDem officials say 30,000 local authority places are being lost as money is diverted to new free schools and accuse Gove of being ‘ideologically obsessed’ about backing free schools.
Tory education officials called the LibDems ‘pathetic’, saying more school places were being created overall. Asked about the issue on the Andrew Marr Show, yesterday, prime minister Cameron said free schools were ‘an excellent innovation’ and he would ‘get on with delivering what matters, which is good schools for our children’.
Officials in Clegg’s office said that last December Gove overruled the LibDem schools minister David Laws to take £400m from the Basic Need Budget for 2015-17. Clegg’s allies say the sum, from the budget for local authorities to expand school places, represents 30,000 school places.
They claim the money was diverted to help cover a projected £800m overspend between 2013 and 2016 in the budget of free schools, a project close to Gove’s heart.
Free schools can be set up by parents, teachers, charities, businesses, universities, trusts, religious or voluntary groups, but are funded directly by central government. There are currently 174 free schools in England with another 116 approved to open from this September.
One unnamed LibDem said the Tories were ‘putting the needs of a handful of their pet projects ahead of the requirements of the other 24,000 schools in the country’.
He added: ‘Michael Gove is so ideologically obsessed with his free school experiment, he’s willing to see children struggle to get suitable school places. Everybody knows there’s real pressure on school places at the moment and the secretary of state for education knows better than most.
‘It is nothing short of lunacy to slash the amount of money available for new school places to lavish on free schools. Michael Gove was warned by the schools minister David Laws that this was a bad idea but the zealot pressed on anyway.’
Haringey National Union of Teachers (NUT) branch secretary Julie Davies told News Line yesterday: ‘I am amazed by the Liberal Democrats. I have a free school in Totternham which has been put in special measures after being failed by Ofsted.
‘The governors were sacked. Vince Cable’s daughter was one of the governors who were sacked. I thought the LibDems were fully signed up to the free school programme.
‘Free schools are a huge waste of money. They are getting huge amounts spent on buildings while state schools go without. The shortage of school places is the next huge scandal. There will be children without places while free schools are being built from scratch where nobody needs them.’
Wandsworth NUT branch secretary Spencer Barnshaw added: ‘The row highlights the absolute lack of joined-up thinking of the current government’s education policies.
‘The big problem with the free schools programme is it’s not going to provide school places where they are needed. It takes money from state schools.
‘Clegg is right in what he says but the hypocrisy is there for all to see. I’ll be glad to see the back of this government.’